Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is STILL incredibly un-fun in 2021 and I enjoy blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…
Top 5 Performances That Helped Turn Me Into a Douche in High School
It’s important to know thyself. And I know that I have inescapable douche energy. How could I not? I’m a podcaster, a self-described “punk dad,” a craft beer enthusiast, and someone who writes self-indulgent blog posts like this for fun. I have both unquenchable “look at me!” energy and frequent bouts of intense self-loathing. Those are the ingredients for a douche cocktail!
On the other hand, I turn 40 in a few months and can say with confidence I no longer seek validation from others about my tastes. Further, I’m largely free from affectation which means I can mean what I say, say what I mean, and shoot straight with everyone. These two developments have been a breath of fresh air personally in terms of relating to the world because a) it’s much simpler this way; and b) it stands in stark contrast to who I used to be.
And let’s face it, there was no douchier a decade to grow up in than the 1990s. Don’t fuck with a 90s kid because we will END YOU with withering sarcasm and a cutting, mean-spirited jab about your deepest insecurity delivered with all the nonchalance a casually tossed off hoodie crumpled on some asphalt for a languid game of hacky sack. The most egregious sin of the ‘90s was appearing to care. Damn near every word dripped with irony, snark, or some unholy combination of the two. God help you if you expressed a sincere thought in the wrong context or made an honest mistake. The piranhas of the decade would eat you alive.
And as a pop culture junkie, the media texts of the time were no help. So here are 5 douche bag characters I unabashedly adored growing up.
Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing in Friends
Friends debuted less than a month after I turned 13 in 1994. I was clever, referenced pop culture from well before I was born, too smart for my own good, and was a desperate try-hard in wanting everyone to think I was funny. Onto the screen sauntered Chandler Bing who was unlike any character I’d ever seen or heard. He was everything I wanted to be.
He always had a joke on deck. Had obscure references floating right on top that he could pluck anytime the occasion called for it. Was always the quickest one in the room. The joke that literally changed my life was in the episode “The One With All the Poker.” Rachel bursts into Ross’s apartment excited after an apparent great job interview and exclaims, “Guess what, guess what!” The camera cuts to Chandler who says, “Ok… the fifth dentist caved, and now they’re all recommending Trident?”
That joke filled me equal parts intense joy and a perhaps unhealthy level of jealousy. Oh man, I gotta think of stuff like that! Start thinking of stuff like that! It’s an incredible non-sequitur because it takes an advertising cliché we’ve heard a billion times but probably never think about, and slides it into a conversational opening the size of a postage stamp for maximum hilarity. That joke landed on me like a fucking a-bomb. And because I had obscure references in spades and thought about this joke construction constantly, I got good at sniping in non-sequiturs.
It wasn’t until I got to college and joined the radio station that I dialed this WAY back. We had interminable staff meetings at the station that I hated intensely. The main reason for that was every meeting had at least 15 Chandlers in it competing with each other for whoever could get their shitty rifle shot joke in after seemingly every sentence from whichever poor sap had to run through all the boilerplate again. It was a useful mirror in seeing just how exhausting the constant asides were, and while I still do this occasionally, now I mostly just want people to be able to say they want to without having to deal with the ad hoc MST3K robots derailing their train of thought.
Billy Zane as The Collector in Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight
Remember in Zoolander when Hansel encourages Derek to listen to his friend Billy Zane because, “He’s pretty cool.” Yeah, he is. And he’s the coolest as this smug, self-assured demon who relentlessly pursues the titular demon knight to obtain some sort of key that will hand control of the universe over to demonic forces or whatever the fuck (the plot in this movie is stupid and largely pointless).
Zane is a full letter grade above everyone else performance-wise in this movie, and it’s because his charm is so effortless. Just watch this scene and pay attention to how fun it looks when the sponge pops out of his mouth at 25 seconds. He’s right at home in his oily charm, and it’s delightful to watch! That’s a man that loves his work.
Here’s the other thing: He never shuts up in this movie. Always talking, always wheeling and dealing, and always standing in stark contrast to the majority of the other characters who are written like dour shitheads. I’ve always adored portrayals of the devil and demons as these witty, urbane smooth-talkers. The counterpoints to these characters are always charmless, earnest scolds who speak with all the style of a government functionary dragooned inside a thankless bureaucracy. If Hell is stocked with unctuous but seedy movers and shakers while Heaven is full up on frowning, fearful cyphers, who wouldn’t choose Hell?
Christian Slater as George Kuffs in Kuffs
1992 Christian Slater was right in the thick of Peak Christian Slater. After Heathers and Robin Hood but before True Romance and teenage girl-bait Bed of Roses sat this one, designed to be a star vehicle for our favorite mimeograph of Jack Nicholson. Slater exudes mild exasperation and a “can you believe this?” energy at virtually all times in this movie. It bears mention that he also spends the entire movie talking to the camera. He’s the only one in the movie that has this ability as everyone else is weirdly oblivious to it.
This is roughly 15 years before The Office popularized the move, and Kuffs is like a proto-Jim Halpert. From straight up monologues expositing the plot to just a sidelong glance when a character says something weird or unexpected. For instance, he’s saddled with a new partner named Ted, and in order to get rid of him, drugs his coffee with sleeping pills. While riding in the car, he says to his partner, “You’re not drinking your coffee.” Ted responds, “I don’t like hot coffee. I like cold coffee.” Kuffs turns to the camera, looks right at us, and then looks skyward exasperatedly.
I used to do this constantly as a young teenager. I’d look at a non-existent camera and communicate to my imaginary audience anytime someone said something amiss. That’s equal parts sad, insane, and douchey. Kuffs mouths off to authority figures, gets quippy with bad guys who have guns in his face, and dances shirtless with Milla Jovovich in her underwear at the movie’s beginning. If presented with any of those three scenarios, it’s exactly how I would have wanted to respond. But I pretty much just mouthed off to authority figures.
Jeff Anderson as Randal Graves in Clerks
For reasons I won’t really get into, I grew up thinking a certain level of contempt for humanity was not only cool, but the correct way of interacting with the world. It took me way longer than I’m proud of to realize that isn’t me at all, and that I actually quite like people. But the 90s were nothing if not chock full of slack asses with an unearned and undeserved sense of superiority casting judgment on all the plebes they viewed unworthy.
Video store jockey Randal Graves was this in its purest, uncut form. He’s clearly a smart guy, but thoroughly unmotivated and a real dick to pretty much everyone for no reason. Also, undeniably hilarious. Take this exchange with a customer who’s reading the backs of two VHS tapes with great intensity and concern:
“They say so much, but they never tell you if they’re any good. Are either one of these any good?”
[Randal’s reading a newspaper on the counter at the front of the store and doesn’t even acknowledge her]
[couldn’t possibly be more bored to answer] “What?”
“Are either one of these any good?”
“I don’t watch movies.”
“Well, have you heard anything about either one of them?”
“I find it’s best to stay out of other people’s affairs.”
“You mean you haven’t heard anyone say anything about either one of these?”
“Well, what about these two?”
“Oh, they suck.”
“Sir, these are the same two movies. You weren’t paying any attention.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“I don’t think your manager would appreciate…”
“I don’t appreciate your ruse, ma’am.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Your ruse. Your cunning attempt to trick me.”
“I was only pointing out that you weren’t paying any attention.”
“And I hope it feels good.”
“You hope what feels good?”
“I hope it feels so good to be right. There’s nothing more exhilarating than pointing out the shortcomings of others, is there?”
“Well, this is the last time I rent here!”
“You’ll be missed.”
That kind of passive aggressive fuckery was the mother tongue of the 1990s, and I think we all dabbled in it a little bit. It’s funny to revisit now, but I have a pet theory that you can trace the line of the necessity of a defensive posture at all times in the 1990s directly to the rise of hipsters and all their ironic cloaking and impossible-to-decipher tastes in the 2000s and early 2010s. You can’t fight irony head-on, you have to feint and misdirect and play shadow games with everyone’s perceptions.
That’s all a long way of saying that if I met any of these characters for the first time in 2021, Randal Graves would be the one I’d like the least. He’s a grumpy, arrogant dick, and I can’t believe I looked at him with any level of admiration whatsoever.
Chris Jericho in WCW
World Championship Wrestling in the 1990s was supremely strange. You had Hulk Hogan and the New World Order at the top of the heap. Goldberg was a one-note wrecking machine. The vast majority of the cruiserweights were insanely talented mutes, and then there was Chris Jericho (also a cruiserweight), who stood completely alone. Jericho might as well have been doing vaudeville compared to the rest of the roster who seemed to be singing earnest church hymns by contrast.
He referred to himself as “The Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah.” Look at that photo of him – he’s clearly a self-aggrandizing asshole. And in a masterstroke of being a dick, he’d mispronounce the names of his opponents and rivals. Dean Malenko became Stinko Malenko or Deano Machino. Prince Iaukea became Prince Nakamaki. He called Tony Schiavone (pronounced sha-VON-ee) SKEE-a-vone. It’s a subtle but exceptionally pointy way of demeaning someone, and it’s a joke I’m a sucker for every time. In movies and TV shows, anyway.
Take a look at this video of former Republican candidate for Senate Jon Keyser unmasking as a complete dick when confronted by journalist Marshall Zelinger about forged petition signatures by repeatedly calling him “Mitchell.” That video is wildly uncomfortable to watch because Keyser clearly thinks himself above Zelinger and isn’t afraid to hammer him with the effortless condescension of a country club bully. His behavior in this video is pretty directly responsible for torpedoing his campaign and he didn’t even escape the primary.
Funny when Jericho does it to other professional wrestling cartoon characters, gross and unpleasant when a candidate for Senate does it to a journalist. It’s a lesson in microcosm that took me way too long to learn in real life, and one I have to remind myself of from time to time.
This is why I generally don’t trash talk. I’m not great at playful ballbusting. I tend to go for the jugular and I’m good at it. The satisfaction of snark, the delight of a zinger, the joy of a conversational killshot is always immediately followed by regret. That’s why now I mostly just make fun of the cat.